If The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ ramped up the atmosphere, with Liam Gallagher at the stands ‘Wonderwall’ provided the perfect entourage. Etihad stadium or for the older generation’s sake ‘Eastlands’ resembled a party mood and as the night vamoosed and morning dawned upon, the labourers sweeping away the trash could give a whirl about what had happened last night.
No, the title race is not over but you can promptly feel like the decisive page of the book has been turned. Relegation threatened QPR with City’s former boss Mark Hughes in charge would love to rain on the parade but it just seems the D-Day has just passed. 8 points in the lead with six rounds to go, United was expected to coast to the title and still they stumbled. And badly at that too.
This was the second time Manchester City did the double over United in 163 derbies and that stat itself is even to uncork what has been a one-sided cross-town rivalry thus far. Call them mercenaries whatever you want, the comeback by City shows the squad values the ‘citizenship’ they got.
Sir Alex Ferguson was so riled up by the end of a horrible night for him, but he didn’t do any favours through factors within his reach so much so that it could be argued he brought this upon himself. Playing a defensive formation is nothing to write home about and it has been adopted by many managers who have scripted legendary victories. Ferguson lost his cool midway through the match and if the masses expected a different response from his Italian counterpart Roberto Mancini countering the Scot, they were subjected to the next level of mind games.
It’s no hyperbole. On the night, Ferguson lost the tactical battle, mind games and most critically the composure. Mancini was so quick to point out its still advantage United but you knew there was irony in that feedback.
If City do go on to win the Premiership it must boil Ferguson from inside to know that the one side he has always had the number of in his storied 25 year career at Old Trafford has finally come back to haunt him. Manchester United had the title on the bank deposited and somehow they contrived to lose the account number. He missed one of the most fundamentally etched in stone axioms on last Monday.
He misread Mancini’s mind. And that’s not as easy as one would suspect. There’s no excuse to misapprehend an Italian’s mind in football field. Even on a must win, Mancini would go for the safety first approach, to defend well and score and resume the timetable. And City did exactly that. Arsenal, Swansea, Sunderland all took the game to City and were rewarded for their excursions.
It’s a pattern City have had the whole season. It’s the Italian formula if you will. Let City get into the game of their own pace and you are literally writing your own death sentence. Considering the pedigree of the man, Sir Alex is invulnerable to lose all his lessons and this was demonstrated by the players who prodded the middle with numbers leaving no holes to be punctured. That’s where Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy’s optimum performances of capital value in the flanks came into the fore.
Along with Yaya Toure, two wide men strangled United at every turn and were cut above the opponents at every turn. The match could have easily petered out to a draw vindicating Ferguson’s low-calorie approach but the flow of the game was altered according to the wishes of City by Clichy and Zabaleta who cut in from the flanks. This was made even more important as United didn’t let any crosses into the box either as they closed down aerial threats with almost spooky precision.
The nerves that were burgeoning finally blew up when Vincent Kompany bulleted the header into the net and Danny Welbeck, Antonio Valencia or Ashley Young, Ferguson threw onto the field you knew the bus was already ten miles away from where he was.
After the destruction at Old Trafford in October, United faithful might have thought their sins were all taken away but this defeat is much more passive than that. This was the decider and they fumbled.
City meanwhile has been the best of the league by some distance. On merit they should have sealed the title by now. United can still ambush their way back to the 20th Championship but a City win would only increase what is becoming the most competitively beautiful title’s credentials.
You don’t win a Premiership just because of money. 38 games later whoever is at the top had earned it. Whether it’s United or City is a redundant question.